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First pages

Fragment One

Time has a strange way of flowing out here.

―Spoken-word transcript from Subject’s mobile device; evidence tag dated Friday, August 18, 2017, less than 8 hours before displacement event.

 

 

What is one to make of the me? Could modern-day Assyriology be collectively underestimating the impact of such an immense cultural powerhouse?

Imagine:

A water-pourer, which is to say, one possessing the me of water-pouring, serves beer for the priestess and her inner circle. She, stationed where all eyes would look up to her, all others reclining around a table. Around the banquet room sit all the city’s chief officials. Mock tapestries—carved from stone rather than woven, line the walls. “What word from outside the city?” the priestess asks.

The messenger, which is to say, one bearing the me of swiftness, bows his head in deference before speaking. Around his neck he bears another me, that of loyalty, a “gift” from the priestess.

“Our spies have reported a force of twenty regiments,” the messenger reports. “Each led by a commander with the me of stone-hurling. They may make a move within this very moon, but the temple alone has sixty bearing the me of defense. Still, outsiders may threaten the great city. It is unsafe for travelers. At least three of the caravans are foreign soldiers in guise.”

The confident priestess waves away his concern. “If they are foolish enough to make a stand against the city, they will dash themselves to pieces against my men —that is why they have been gifted. My father The Sovereign will take care of any left standing.”

The priestess turns to the kitchen-lord. “Is everything in order to feed the gods?”

He grunts in agreement.

“Very well,” says the priestess.

—Unpublished journal entry of Issachar Thorkild, undated

 

 

February 17, 2017: Palo Alto, Central California, NAU

Shiloh Naderi dropped the file folder with a thud onto the lavish table. Neatly folded on top was a page still warm from the laser printer. The table could seat thirty, but the two of them were the only ones in the room.

“What’s this?” asked Faruq Ismail, CEO of Ixion Corporation and Shiloh’s mentor.

“Exactly what I promised. Didn’t you think I was serious?” Shiloh said.

Faruq closed the door to the conference room, replacing distant office sounds with muffled silence. He unfolded the resignation letter and glanced over the contents. “You can’t do this to me, man,” Faruq said. “You’re the best, I mean that. How am I going to find another designer that’ll come close to filling your shoes? We need all the talent we can get our hands on. Apple and Samsung are nipping at our heels.”

Shiloh smiled, but it wasn’t enough to clear away the determination from his face. “You’ve changed a lot since we first met—you realize that, Mr. Hard-Hitting Businessman?”

Faruq said nothing. One of his classic negotiating techniques was letting silence stretch until the other person felt the need to say something.

“Look,” Shiloh said, “I’ve made my decision. It’s—”

Faruq held up a finger for silence. “Don’t say it. Nothing is ever final, until you say it. Look, I wasn’t planning on making this official for another few weeks. Need board approval and whatnot before I’m supposed to talk about it.” He paused for dramatic effect. “We’re giving you run of the place. An entire design studio that would make the guys at Apple weep into their stock certificates. All yours. Full autonomy. You’ve shown sufficient initiative to earn this. You are literally the future. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I want you to go away and think about this, then come back and agree to be our savior. Spend a week walking the Bay Trail. Take two weeks. We’ll talk again after that.”

Shiloh sat. Faruq was right—this was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. How could he refuse it? A moment passed, and he relived every internal discussion he’d had with himself leading up to that point. Nothing had changed. “My. Decision. Is. Final.”

“Look, I’m not supposed to talk about this,” Faruq said.

Shiloh pursed his lips together. “What?”

“I don’t want you to run Design. I want you to run the entire company—eventually.”

“That’s great,” Shiloh said, “I— Wait, what did you say?”

“Before you got this crazy idea of leaving us, I decided that you should run all of Ixion so I can retire to a tropical island somewhere.”

“Me? CEO? That’s…that’s…I don’t even…”

“Obviously, this wouldn’t happen immediately. There’s a process to it. Expect to see lots of articles with the words ‘grooming’ and ‘successor’ in the headline. I think—and the board agrees—it’s your designs that have made Ixion stand out above the competition. You’d make a great CEO because of your intuitive sense for blending technology and aesthetics. You’d spread that culture through the ranks. Our competitors can keep on making their phones”—he sneered as he said the word—”and we’ll one-up them, again and again. It’s going to be an easy win for you.”

“Only now you bring this up?” Shiloh said.

“Rumor control. I don’t go around blabbing about every idea the board kicks around now, do I? But in this instance, you’re forcing my hand.”

Shiloh massaged his temples. This was a lot to take in. Suddenly the conference room seemed like a foreign place. “Why do you carry around three tablets?” Shiloh asked him, gesturing at his beltline. Ixion as a rule was a stickler for calling all handheld devices tablets, never mere “phones”—the competitors could call their inferior devices phones all they wanted.

“Not appreciating your diversionary tactics at this point,” Faruq said. He looked off-balance by the shift in the conversation. As the silence stretched, he finally filled it. “I’m a busy guy. I need one for all the usual tablet stuff: text messaging, snapping photos, surfing the web, all that. The other one is really more like a pager. Only a few VIPs have that number. Why do you bring that up?”

“I’m making a point. You don’t even realize how insane it is to carry around three tablets? Isn’t life aggravating enough with just one?”

Faruq massaged the bridge of his nose. “Let me be blunt. You’re making a huge mistake. I’ve never seen anyone throw away such a promising career. You don’t realize it yet, but you’re actually being selfish. Give it a few months. Go play shepherd for a while, then when you’ve had enough, call me. I’ll even pick you up and haul you back to civilization.”

Shiloh shrugged, palms out. “Call you?”

“Call me. The third tablet is for you. I know it sullies your whole technology-abandonment narrative, but humor me.” He unclipped the tablet and handed it to Shiloh.

As if by reflex, Shiloh extended his hand. It felt perfectly suited to his palm, his own wonder of ergonomic development. The flat screen used a new haptic material that Shiloh had pioneered, which would change shape in response to the tablet’s internal commands. It could lay out physically-raised buttons on-the-fly, extending a few millimeters right out of the front glass. It was a seriously cool piece of technology, Shiloh had to admit. “This isn’t in production yet. How did you get it?”

“I’m the CEO. I pull strings. This tablet won’t be on the shelves for another six months, but I figure in the Middle-East-of-nowhere, our secrets will be safe. I trust you. Also I had the guys replace the 4G radio with a satellite unit, so that it will work out there.”

Shiloh cursed himself for his weakness, but now that he had accepted the gift, it would be a grave offense to return it. Maybe one small memento wouldn’t hurt.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what’s in the rest of those files?” Shiloh asked.

Faruq’s VIP tablet sounded off. The ringtone was a catchy reggae tune, maybe “Rat Race.” He held up a finger, the universal I-gotta-take-this gesture, and stepped out of the room.

Shiloh left the files behind and went to retrieve his things. His office had a printed sign, stating Do Not Release The Hound! taped to the door. Inside the glass wall, Hawa, an oversized Australian Shepherd, wagged her tail-nub furiously. The sign dated back to an incident when a hapless IT technician entered the office, loosing Hawa to roam free through the corridors of Ixion. Her natural herding instincts kicked in as she nipped at the heels of everyone within her line of sight (including some visiting Google execs) and treated all attempts to pen her up again as the most stupendous game of keep-away in her life.

Not everything in Silicon Valley was terrible. There were good memories of here. He thought back to the time he pulled a double-all-nighter taking on the role of the former design manager, after she parted ways with the company without notice. That had led to his first promotion, and had set the company on an entirely new path. Later he saw a report that estimated that an additional ninety-three million person-hours of collective screen time had been attributed to that design tweak.

He ran his fingers along the smooth edge of his desk. The luxuriant aroma of cedar still lingered in the custom woodwork.

Now his desk was completely barren, all his belongings already boxed and waiting in the lobby. “C’mon, girl, let’s go,” he said. Leash keep-away was another fun game for her, and Shiloh worked on cornering her in the confined space.

Faruq reappeared, and carefully entered without releasing the hound. “Sorry about the interruption, man. Lots going on right now,” he said.

Hawa was distracted enough by the visitor for Shiloh to get a grip on her collar. He attached the leash with a satisfying click.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Faruq said. “Never saw it coming.”

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that. Repeatedly.”

Faruq let out a huge sigh. “So you’re giving it all up? You’re going to, what, live in a tent? Do they even have running water out there?” Faruq had been born here in the American Union; he knew nothing about Shiloh’s homeland. Not that Shiloh knew all that much about it, either, having moved here at the age of eleven. “Do they even have a mosque?”

“I haven’t been to mosque in years,” Shiloh said. “I do just fine finding my own path. Incidentally, Abdullah—he’s the paternal head out there—feels the same way.”

Faruq must have been truly desperate to play the religion card. “Stay. You’re going to be a bigger part of culture than even Jony Ive over at Apple. You’re going to be on the cover of Wired.”

Shiloh felt his stomach sour. His face must have shown it as well, because Faruq immediately course-corrected.

“Which is the kind of publicity you totally hate. Look, I didn’t mean it that way—”

“What you value is very different from what I’m after,” Shiloh said. “I don’t want to be a cultural figure. This culture,”—he gestured, taking in all of Ixion and Silicon Valley—“sucks. I want no part of it.” He reached for the door. Hawa redoubled her vicious wag.

“One-time offer, my friend,” Faruq said. “You go out that door, and it’s off the table. Gone.”

Shiloh shook his friend’s hand and walked out.

“Call me,” Faruq said to his back. “Call anytime. I’ll come get you.” As Shiloh left, he heard Faruq’s VIP tablet chirp out that annoying ringtone.

Outside the Ixion campus, cars and busses streamed through streets filled with people heading home after a long day. Ixion had grown so much in the last year that the main headquarters in Palo Alto was busting at the seams, and they had taken on a second campus within sight of the salt marshes of the South Bay. What had once been a quiet industrial park was rapidly growing into a small city, with the traffic to match.

Shiloh guided Hawa across the busy street and a few blocks toward the light rail station. There, he unfolded a service animal-in-training uniform from his box of belongings and slipped it around her neck. Getting the best seat on the train was nice, but more importantly, this dog would go on to help someone who really needed it. They rode the train toward the airport.

“Here we go, girl,” he told Hawa as they got off at the station. Hawa insisted on waiting for a walk signal before stepping onto the street. A massive plane rumbled overhead, momentarily distracting Shiloh, until he felt a sharp tug on the leash and went with it, taking a step forward just as a vehicle plowed through the red light. Had he been even half-a-step behind, they would be scraping him off the roadway. Shiloh fumbled with his tablet to snap a picture of the license plate of who had done this.

But the car had no driver, only someone in the passenger seat. Sorry! blinked a LED sign in the rear window. The vehicle model was one Shiloh had just read about as being in beta testing for the first time in actual traffic. Apparently more testing was needed. The culture here was terrible. These gadgets had too high a cost. Another car—this one with an angry driver—honked, and Shiloh stepped off the roadway. The driver flipped off Shiloh while zooming past.

“Are you okay, sir?” asked a lanky blonde man. There was something wrong with his face, but Shiloh couldn’t exactly tell what. All the features seemed in the right place, only somehow off in a way he couldn’t exactly put his finger on. Shiloh brushed away the feeling. He hated it when people judged him based on assumptions about his heritage, and common decency demanded that he treat others with the same respect he should be due. The man set aside his wheeled luggage case. He seemed to have just arrived via the airport.

“Your timing was incredible,” the man said.

“Oh? Thank Hawa here. She’s a good dog, aren’t you, Hawa?” Her nub wagged frenetically.

“My name’s Mark, by the way,” the man said. Shiloh was surprised at how comfortable he felt with this stranger. His face looked trustworthy, like Shiloh could tell him anything. “Pardon my intrusion here, but I was wondering if you’ve experienced these sorts of things before.”

Shiloh thought back over recent months. “I’ve had a few close calls after Niners games, but I think the drivers were probably, you know how fans get…” He made the gesture for tipping back a drink.

Mark smiled. “Oh, yes, drivers are crazy. But I was thinking of something else. Have you ever experienced, unusual events in your life? Odd coincidences? Unexplained events?” The way he said the word unusual gave Shiloh a chill. Suddenly Mark didn’t seem so trustworthy.

“Unusual?” Shiloh asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer. “Thanks for your concern, Mark, but I really need to get to my appointment to drop off Hawa here.” He looked at the building, and Mark’s eyes followed. The sign said Service Animal Bureau NAU Territories.

“Here, take my card. If you experience anything out of the ordinary, give my staff a call.”

Shiloh took the card and slipped it into the pocket of his jeans without looking. “Whatever. Thanks,” he said.

“Pleased to meet you. Have a safe flight,” Mark said.

Shiloh proceeded into the building. Only later did he realize that he had never mentioned to Mark that he would be flying. How did he know?

 

 

January 15, 2015: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, NAU

Prior to the meeting her employer set up with Dr. Issachar Thorkild, Nadia hadn’t even realized it was possible for a bow tie to be so badly misconfigured. The doctor rushed into the coffee shop fifteen minutes late. He cradled a sheaf of ragged papers and headed directly for the lone unoccupied table, next to Nadia. He let the papers collapse on to the table, only a few of them scattering to the floor. Adjusting his glasses, he precariously leaned over to gather up the fallen sheets.

Nadia reached over to help. Thorkild batted her hand away and managed to bump against the table, scattering another few pages.

Nadia straightened. “Doctor Thorkild, I presume.”

He narrowly missed hitting his head on the table. A clump of hair stood out at an odd angle. His pupils shrunk then expanded as he focused on this person who had addressed him.

“Madame Trbojevich,” he said.

She wondered whether this meeting was the right thing to do, but pushed the thought out of her mind. Of course it was. “Yes. Would you like a cup of coffee or anything?”

He adjusted his glasses again. Must be a nervous habit. “Of course, but I wouldn’t dream of making you get one for me. If you’ll wait here just a minute, I will fetch my beverage.”

“I already picked one up for you while I waited. Sugar, no cream.” A confused look crossed his face. “I emailed one of your research assistants to ask what you prefer,” Nadia said. She handed him the waiting cup from her table.

Thorkild popped the plastic lid off the cup and peered into the steaming coffee within, as if he were expecting to find secrets swirling in the depths. He took his glasses off, wiped them on his shirt, and replaced them. He took a long swallow of the scalding liquid.

“That’s terribly hot—are you all right?” Nadia said.

“If heat bothered me, I wouldn’t have spent so much time in Iraq,” he said.

Nadia couldn’t see how desert acclimatization related to coffee stamina, but she decided not to press the matter. “Well, is a great honor to meet you at last,” she said. “I’ve followed nearly all of your papers over the years. I realize your time is limited, and will use as little of it as possible today. My sources tell me you have an unpublished discovery showing possible evidence of time—

Thorkild’s arms flew into the air. “Shh! Not so loud,” he said, then craned his neck with a loud pop, scanning the room. Once satisfied with whatever failed to notice, he spoke in a low voice. “OK. Here’s something you haven’t seen in any journals.” From the sheaf of papers unfurled across his table, he produced one especially dog-eared sheet and placed it on the table, turning his body so as to block view of the contents from as many people as possible.

The page held a photostat of a clay tablet, with three-axis dimension markers indicative of volumetric computer scans, the best technology 2015 had to offer. Nadia’s new boss, Mark Bode, had arranged a generous grant of equipment to Thorkild’s University, and Thorkild had made good use of it. Possibly even exceeding Bode’s high expectations. The tablet displayed clear cuneiform impressions, divided into etched rectangular sections with a black space on one side of the tablet. It was hard to make sense of anything, but then again Nadia’s specialty wasn’t Assyriology.

“Pretty standard mathematical exercises here,” Thorkild said. “No doubt done by a student in front of a teacher. Dates to the Old Akkadian era. Calculating the area of a field based on a given length and width.”

Nadia looked more closely at the scan. “Why is it smudged here?” she said.

“Ah, excellent eye,” Thorkild said. “The bumps here are where the student made a mistake, and while the clay was still moist, smoothed it over, and made corrected impressions with his reed.”

“Can the scan show what was erased?” Nadia asked.

Thorkild beamed. “Another excellent question,” he said. “I can see you are an asset to the Union. Indeed we can. Even when the clay gets all smashed down, say with a thumb, tiny air bubbles remain under the surface.” He gestured, pantomiming working over the page with his thumb. Then he pulled another sheet out from his stack. This showed, in schematic form, another tablet with the exact same outline of the first, but different contents. Most of the tablet’s surface was blank, but the erased area showed faint triangular impressions. “An example of how a culture that had not yet invented the concept of zero led to difficulties for this poor student. If you work through the problem, you can see that he had an alignment error when working out the details of long multiplication.”

The tone in his voice made it sound like the big reveal was yet to come. “What are these other marks over to the side?” Nadia asked.

Thorkild was so excited he quivered. He produced yet another sheet. “We had to push the limits of the scanner for this one. Full error-correction. The thing erased was not deep impressions made with a reed, but rather more shallow surface scratches. They don’t leave much behind after being smoothed over, but it’s just enough for the scanner to pick up. See?”

Nadia looked at the page, which showed the same outline of the tablet, and an almost entirely white interior. The only markings were a dusting of black dots off to the side, perhaps like what any photocopier might have left behind. “I don’t see anything special,” she said.

Thorkild slipped a mechanical pencil from his pocket protector. He traced over the dots. “See here, this is clearly a zero. Working in either direction from there, here’s a seven, here’s a three, here are two consecutive ones. I won’t bore you with the details, but we have enough here to reconstruct the entire problem. The Arabic numerals,” he made finger quotes around the word ‘Arabic,’ “on the right produce a decimal solution that exactly matches the base-sixty digits of that era with the solution on the left. You see, these people thought in sixties as readily as we think in tens or one-hundreds.”

“Akkadians did not use zero,” Nadia said. “Or use base-ten numbers, if I recall. Must be forgery. A practical joke. A misplaced document from a latter period.”

“It can’t be a forgery. This type of scanning is cutting edge in the field of computational archaeology. Nobody would have the tech to forge tiny air bubbles in a meaningful pattern, even if they had any idea we were able to look for it. As for its provenance—we have numerous samples of tablets done by students at tablet-houses over many generations. I’d stake my considerable reputation on that tablet dating to before 2000 BCE.”

Nadia wasn’t sure she got all that. Thorkild caught the expression on her face and laid out the executive summary:

“Yes, isn’t that something,” Thorkild said, “Someone, more than four thousand years ago, solved a math problem using modern notation, then erased it.”

Nadia felt the room spin around her. Was Thorkild really saying what she thought he was saying, that time travel was real? She smoothed over her shock. “So, what now? Since you’re showing me this, you’re obviously motivated to talk to someone about it. Are you planning to publish?”

Thorkild looked horrified. “Are you kidding? I’d be laughed out of academia. We live in a skeptical society. People demand proof and more proof, and then they start talking about extraordinary claims, even if the term itself is wholly subjective. No, something this big is going to take a generation to hash out. At my age, I don’t know if I’d be up for it.”

“You are not known as one to back away from an academic squabble,” Nadia said. “Now let me show you something.” She removed some folded papers from her purse. They were written in Arabic, lots of text flush with the right margin, and thick, looping signatures. They were dated December 2014, less than a month old.

For the first time in the meeting, she had Thorkild’s undivided attention.

“As a signatory to the Salaam Accords, Saddam Hussein has recently granted archaeologists from the North American Union unprecedented access to historical sites, so long as they sign a statement acknowledging him as the Great Nebuchadnezzar, blah, blah. Barring political instability we should be able to uncover more pieces of historical interest. Unfettered access. Find more examples like this, then you’d have something you could publish, no?” Nadia straightened the papers on the table. “What you decide is up to you, but I’d have to say we’d make a great team.”

Thorkild smiled.

Fragment Two

A little evil is often necessary for obtaining a great good.

―Voltaire


June 15, 2014: Swarthmore, PA, NAU

Nadia Trbojevich had tucked a recent issue of Archaeological Review inside her enormous study Bible. While the pastor went over the finer issues of his sermon point by point, she was absorbed in the past. Her mind raced too quickly to stay engaged with the discussion, so she supplemented. Theology she could take or leave. She came here for the prayer. The prayers of the faithful, when properly aligned, were capable of great feats, no doubt about it.

So she snapped out of her reverie when the pastor quoted Genesis: “And nothing shall be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do,” applying the verse to his very flock. He called on the congregation to pray for his sister Miriam, dying of cancer. Nadia closed her Bible, the journal tucked inside, and concentrated on the words. She could feel the power of these people, their lines of their thoughts intertwining, curling through the air like incense on the way to heaven. Visions of cancer cells withering and wasting away filled her mind’s eye—in startling vividness: purple and white blobs of malignant doom with countless tendrils reaching outward to propagate the disease—then clobbered by a wave of collective will, turning a desolate brown, tendrils shriveling like a dead bug’s legs. Nadia imagined that the exact same vision went through the others’ minds at the same time, amplifying the magnitude of the petition. Together they would devise a prophecy that would come true.

There was no room for doubt.

That had been six month ago. Now, Miriam was gone. Nadia sought out the pastor, who had gone off the pulpit until further notice. He moped around the rectory, skinny and ragged, as if the disease had attacked him too. His neck held a deep crease down the middle and no longer filled in the collar he wore. He looked tired. When he noticed Nadia, his eyes met hers, but his head remained stooped.

“It’s all a waste,” he said. “If it’s not true, it’s all a waste.”

This conversational gambit took Nadia by surprise. “What’s a waste, Tom?” she said.

“I asked the Good Lord to help me out. I’ve never asked for anything before, at least anything substantial. Just the usual. You know, thy kingdom come; this day my daily bread; never anything selfish, except this once.” His voice broke, a sob cutting through. “Why?”

Nadia had never been that close to him, and here he was, confessing his deepest secrets in front of her. Her legs felt weak, and she swayed, which Tom misinterpreted and reached out for a hug, squeezing mightily. Nadia stood there with her hands thrust out from her body, waiting for the indignity to end. She didn’t like to be touched, and she could feel his body shaking with each ragged breath. After what seemed like a socially acceptable amount of time, she peeled his fingers away from her shoulder blades and stepped back.

The right words would comfort, if she could find them. “She’s with the Lord now, Tom. You should be—” Grateful, she almost said. Dealing with people was not her strong suit, but once in a while she realized when she was about to say something that would inflict more pain. “She’s finished her path. Fought the fine fight. I’m sure the Lord has a good reason for taking her. In the fullness of time, I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate that.”

Tom looked up, rubbing his eyes. “Thanks,” he said. “I always knew there was something special about you.” He produced a handkerchief from an inner pocket and blew his nose at length. When he was more composed, he said, “I’m sorry, it’s not fair for me to unload on you like that. Now, my child. I can’t imagine you came here for that conversation. What can I do for you?”

Relative to the gravity of the preceding discussion, Nadia felt foolish about the real reason she came to the church. “Oh, never mind, it’s nothing. I can ask you some other time,” she said. “I feel stupid just for being here.”

“Don’t, my child,” Tom said, “For you to be here has already been a great blessing unto me. I need to have someone else’s problems on my mind for a change.”

Now completely overwhelmed by the social situation, Nadia decided to avoid second-guessing herself and plow forward with her original course. She only hoped it didn’t end in more tears. She held up the copy of Archaeological Review.

“Ah,” Tom said, “that looks like the magazine you’ve been reading during my sermons.”

Nadia’s cheeks warmed. “Oof, you are being right, of course. Well, I have professional interest in the past. I appreciate how often your sermons bring the past to life. I’ve walked the Fertile Crescent, and I make a point of finding things you’ve spoken about. I’ve been through the ruins of Jericho, seen how a city can fall when set against by an unstoppable force.”

Tom stood rapt with attention. He wiped away a last bit of moisture from around his eyes, leaving no trace of his earlier emotional state. “All of us have doubts from time to time,” he said.

“Did it really happen? Just like that? I’ve made a career out of digging up the past, and sometimes even I’m not sure.” She propped the journal open on a nearby desk and pointed to an article she had festooned with highlights and scribbled notes in the margins. “In your experience, are miracles real?”

“A miracle is merely that which is unexplained,” the pastor said. “If you’re looking for first-hand information, you’re asking the wrong man. But I know just who you should talk to. Have you ever heard of The Cause?”


Rising star Mark Bode appointed as director of The Cause

The Cause, a think-tank described as nonpartisan despite close ties to the religious right, today appointed Mark Bode as acting director. Requests for further comment were not returned by the secretive group.

—DC Sentinel, June 3, 2014


December 29, 2014, The Cause headquarters

“It all comes down to a single question,” the tall man said, before even introducing himself. “Do you believe in miracles?”

Nadia Trbojevich looked the man up and down. Muscles bulged from under an expensive oxford shirt with a Roman collar. He had a large hole in one ear, bigger than a piercing. His face made her uneasy, but the more she looked at it, the less it bothered her. She glanced at the address on the three-story brick building, deep in the heart of Arlington. Yes, this was the place.

“Yes, I believe I do,” she said. “And you are?”

The man had the bearing of one used to dominating any conversation in which he partook. “The priest sent you?” he asked.

“Yes, I flew in this morning. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”

“Mark. Mark Bode. I’m the administrator of this humble house of…prayer.” His gesture swept over the place, not as modest as his words indicated, and ended with his hand extended in handshake. Nadia took his hand. “Please, step inside.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Micah Joel's books combine geeky characters with cutting-edge technology, whether modern or ancient. Micah works as a professional geek in Silicon Valley. If you use the internet, chances are, you've run some of the code Micah's written. Micah graduated the Viable Paradise writing workshop; an intense week on Martha's Vineyard with John Scalzi, Steven Gould, and Elizabeth Bear, among others. He maintains a free and low-volume reading list at http://micahjoel.info/geeks

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Believe it or not, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash sparked the initial idea for this book. One of the side topics in Neal's book was the "me" or Sumerian rules the defined the basis of their culture. What would it look like if these were physical objects taken at face value?
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
It's great how tablets have come full circle, being both one of the original pieces of technology (writing) as well as the latest modern gadget. So the cover captures this duality by depicting a clay tablet breaking away revealing a modern tablet behind. This duality is present throughout the book.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I've been a huge fan of time travel since forever. In that genre, I've noticed that Western settings come standard, mostly. I wanted to explore a distinctly non-European culture, combining aspects of both sci-fi and fantasy. Nobody else was writing this, so I had to. :-)

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